Director Carpenter talks Bowling Green memories, new 'Halloween' film

Photo by Kyle Cassidy/Storm King Productions  John Carpenter

It's been a long journey for famed film director John Carpenter, from playing in garage bands for fraternity parties at Western Kentucky University to playing in front of thousands of people at venues around the world.

Carpenter, a former Bowling Green resident perhaps best known for directing the iconic "Halloween" movie, is, at age 68, adding to his entertainment legacy.

The director of almost two dozen films who also wrote the iconic score for "Halloween," as well as several other movies, has released two albums – "Lost Themes" and "Lost Themes II" and has hit the road to perform the music live on an international tour, with stops from Helsinki to Barcelona and London to Los Angeles.

"I talked to an agent and they said you could make some money," taking his music on tour, Carpenter said in an interview with the Daily News on Wednesday. "So I thought, well, I'm not getting any younger."

His band includes his son and godson and members of Tenacious D, the band fronted by comedian/singer Jack Black.

"We're out here playing and having a great time," he said. Some who attend the concerts are fans of Carpenter's films, but "we get a mixed bag of people," he said. "They don't know what to expect." About 70 percent of the music is movie scores while 30 percent is new music.

Carpenter also made movie headlines recently when it was announced that he would be returning to the "Halloween" franchise as executive producer of an upcoming "Halloween" movie. The 1978 original was one of the most successful small-budget films of all time, made for about $300,000 and leading to numerous sequels and remakes that have collectively grossed nearly $400 million.

Locally, the film is also known for its many local references – Carpenter co-wrote the film and included references to Smiths Grove and Russellville.

The Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau has even produced a self-guided tour called "John Carpenter's Reel Sites, Real Scary" that highlights Carpenter's life in Bowling Green and the local references.

Carpenter said the new film is in its very early stages – "We're not far at all," he said, but the search for a director is making progress. As for whether the next "Halloween" film will build on the local references found in "Halloween" and some of his other films – "I don't know yet – you never know," he said, adding that he also might compose the score for the film.

Carpenter said his ties to Bowling Green are diminishing.

He was born in 1948 in Carthage, N.Y. When Carpenter was 5, his family moved to Bowling Green where his father started teaching music at WKU. He attended Western before transferring to the USC School of Cinema in Los Angeles. WKU awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2007 and he was also inducted into WKU's Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1999. In the Distinguished Alumni video from 1999, Carpenter talked about his local memories: “I suppose that most of who I am and what I believe in was figured out walking around the grounds of the Kentucky Building after dinner when the sun's going down ... I don't think I've been in a more beautiful spot in all my life. And the thoughts of life and death, people, beauty, cruelty, fear ... whatever I was thinking about, I thought about walking by myself there. I was a loner, but I grew up in a paradise. I kind of became who I am now.”

The stint in Bowling Green included playing music in several bands in the late 1960s, including one called Kaleidoscope, Carpenter recalled.

He had been coming to Bowling Green once a year to see his father and friends, but with the passing in February of his father – Dr. Howard R. Carpenter, who spent 34 years at WKU, including as head of the school's music department – there's "not a lot of reason to" return to his old stomping grounds anymore, he said.

His memories of Bowling Green are not all idyllic; "Everything I learned about evil, I learned in Bowling Green," he said, referencing being exposed here to "the Jim Crow South" for the first time.

But Carpenter also recalled the three Bowling Green movie theaters – the Capitol, Princess and State – and two drive-ins where he took in double features as the catalysts for his eventual career.

"Those theaters are where I got my movie education," he said.

— Follow city government reporter Wes Swietek on Twitter @BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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